Three Conversations that can inject Health into Leadership Development

One of my favorite 80's movies is The Karate Kid. It's a story about a kid named Daniel who moves to California, meets a girl and soon after, meets her karate trained ex-boyfriend.  After getting beat up a few times, he meets Mr. Miyagi, a highly skilled Japanese martial artist.  Mr. Miyagi teaches Daniel about life, love, honor, and yes (my favorite part), karate. In short, Mr. Miyagi developed Daniel from ordinary to extraordinary. In the world of church, that’s  the definition of leadership development; helping people discover  and use the extraordinary gifts and talents God has placed inside of them. 

Developing leaders is always a hot topic. It comes up at nearly every church The Unstuck Group works with and showed up as a top trend in a recent Leadership Network study. I believe there are several reasons leadership development is always a front burner conversation, so I wanted to take a moment and share three of those reasons to help pastors and teams have helpful conversations around the topic. 

1. Processes and strategies are pointless without prayer

The reality is, churches simply can’t grow beyond its leadership; and there isn’t anyone more aware of this than Satan. His objective is to prevent churches from growing and impacting people. In Matthew 12:26, Jesus said, “If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?” Jesus pointed out that Satan has a kingdom, which means our adversary completely understands the importance of leadership, or in our case, the lack there of. Therefore it shouldn’t surprise us that both leadership and developing new leaders are primary targets in our churches. 

In the karate world,  Mr. Miyagi stresses the importance meditation. In the real world, we stress the importance of prayer.  Prayer is the most important part of any strategy. This is especially true when it comes to developing leaders. We must never forget that prayer is essential for every aspect of ministry. I can't tell you the number of times I have asked this question to frustrated pastors who were struggling with leadership development, "Have you asked God to help you find people to develop into leaders?" Many times the question is answered with a moment of silence on the other side of the call. Processes and strategies are certainly important, but are pointless without prayer. In John 15:5, Jesus said, "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." Don't forget to pray. We need Jesus' help.

2. Don’t confuse Finding Leaders with Developing Leaders

While we certainly don’t want to overlook people that attend our churches that have leadership backgrounds or gifts, we need to be mindful that finding leaders and developing leaders are two different things. Jesus was the master leader developer. He didn’t find Peter the apostle; he found Peter the fisherman and developed him into a leader. The same was true with the Apostle Paul. When it came time to place a pastor at Ephesus, he took Timothy under his wing and helped him grow. There’s nothing wrong with finding leaders, but it’s pretty obvious that Jesus’ life exemplified developing leaders more than finding them

A leadership development strategy requires looking for good pieces of clay, as opposed to the nice vase. In the movie, Daniel was certainly a good piece of clay. The vase is prettier and requires less work, but that isn’t development. Over the years, I have been fortunate to see men and women flourish into great leaders; some of these I hand picked and others I stumbled upon. I remember one story in particular. Our church was launching an outreach opportunity that required setting up an area for kids.  One of our volunteers had a family emergency, resulting in their absence and left us with an immediate need to find someone to set up inflatables. I looked outside and saw one of my members, who we will call Mike. He was a new Christian and I didn’t know a lot about him, other than he was always there on Sunday and seemed like a nice guy. Since I was in a pinch, I opened the door and asked him if he would be responsible to make the inflatables happen. He instantly replied with a yes. After a few instructions, he was on his way. Half an hour later, I went to the door to make sure he was getting it done. I was shocked at what I saw; there stood Mike, leaning against the building, watching three other people set up the inflatables. It dawned on me. This guy is a leader! 

In essence, leadership is getting it done through others, which is exactly what he was doing. He was a good lump of clay. Fast forward several months, Mike joined my small group, I loaned him leadership books and recommended podcasts. Over time, he was given more leadership opportunities and slowly was molded into a great leader. Finding good clay isn’t always easy; nor is it appealing at first, but it’s certainly where and how leadership development begins. 

3. Leadership Development requires Relationship, which requires Time

If there’s one thing pastors say they don’t have enough of, it’s time. And if there’s one thing that requires time, it’s developing leaders. One of my favorite things about the movie Karate Kid, is the deep relationship that is developed between Daniel and his teacher. It took time. Many pastors want the fast track version, so they can quickly build leaders and have instant impact in ministry. Unfortunately, I don’t think the fast track exists.

While there’s certainly a lot of self help material out there, nothing can substitute a flesh and blood leader helping someone else grow. While attending a conference, I remember Bishop T.D. Jakes speaking on mentoring leaders. I loved the way he defined mentoring. He said, “Mentoring is men inviting others to tour their life.” He's right. When men and women leaders invite others to come alongside them in a mentoring relationship, great things happen. As mentioned in the story about Mike, in addition to sharing books and podcasts, I also invited him to my small group. There, we developed a relationship. There were times we laughed, and other times we talked about hard things. You can’t effectively develop people into strong leaders without an earned speaking permission into their life; and that can’t happen without relationship, which, by the way, takes time. There will always be times when it's wiser to hire (or find) leaders from outside of the church and bring them in. However, developing leaders from within, can heighten commitment early on because they already been exposed to the vision and culture of the church. 

 Have a conversation around these questions:
  1. What opportunities are available to engage potential leaders?
  2. How can we create relational environments to earn speaking permission in the lives of potential leaders?
  3. How can we measure our process? How can we measure our progress? 

Lastly, let me add that leadership development shouldn’t be something that starts and ends; it has to be a cycle. Meaning, the church must continually develop the next generation so the mission of the church can continue and people can be impacted by the gospel. See Building a Leadership Cycle for more reading. 


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